ABRAAJ CAPITAL ART
Unlike other art prizes, the Abraaj Capital Art Prize is awarded for art project proposals rather than work already produced.
By recognising the latent potential of ideas and providing funding for the winners, the Abraaj Art Prize which is open to artists from MENASA (Middle East, North Africa and South Asia) helps to bring into being works that may otherwise never have been made.
In its inaugural year the winning projects were on show for the first time at the Art Dubai art fair in March 2009.
The winning piece by Algerian video and installation artist Zoulika Bouabdellah (b.1977) and curator Carol Solomon was a stunning three dimensional space called Walk on Sky, Pisces 2009.
The piece recreates the night sky with a system of light-emitting diodes mounted on an aluminium ceiling to form a constellation of of stars. The viewer is invited to walk on the stainless steel floor which mirrors the pulsing pattern of coloured stars 3 meters above thus creating an experience of walking on the sky.
Multiple sources inform the work including the polygon star (a key geometric configuration in Islamic art), the influential tenth-century treatise, Book of Fixed Stars by the Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi and the story of the legendary glass floor erected in front of King Solomon’s throne which the Queen of Sheba was led to believe was water. (note 1)
Bouabdellah’s work demands the involvement of the spectator, who must physically enter the installation in order to be able to experience it .
“It is not interesting from afar; you have to walk on it. When you walk on it, it becomes art.” explains Bouabdellah to the Gulf News.
When Art Radar viewed the piece out of doors at Art Dubai, the floor was covered in desert sand footprints and fascinated children played games of flying and sliding across the sky floor. As dusk fell the viewers became shadows and the coloured star patterns above and their reflections below grew more dominant, becoming intricate patterns of colour piercing the gloom.
The work of the 10th century Persian astronomer Abd Al Rahman Al Sufi has provided a key source of inspiration for the piece. “My work is a homage to science, to global intelligence.”
Speaking of the influence of Islamic culture in her work, Bouabdellah points to a period between the 9th and 15th centuries, an era to which she would like to return in terms of the expansiveness and inclusivity of Islamic culture.
“Islamic culture during that period was like bridges between spaces. We cannot talk about Islamic culture without talking about Africa, India, Southern Spain, China.” The era represents for her a time when the yearning for knowledge transcended boundaries and cultural categories, when the Caliph would invite scholars, regardless of religion or ethnicity, to the Maison du Savoir in Baghdad. (note 2)
It seemed to us in the failing light as the echos of playing children reverberated inside the space, that the piece was more than a bridge linking spaces. Children showed us it was also a bridge across generations and a magic carpet of possibility. Just one warning….best to wear trousers if you want to take a walk across the mirrored floor of magic.
The other winners were:
Iranian artist Nazgal Ansarinia (b 1979) with curator Leyla Fakhr for her carpet piece Rhyme and Reason 2009 in which she transforms the traditional floral motifs of the Persian carpet into scenes of contemporary life from Iran. The work prompts us to take a closer look at what is being taken for granted.
Turkish artist Kutlug Ataman (b 1961) with Italian curator Cristiana Perrella for his video Strange Space in which the artist is filmed crossing a sulphorous desert land with bare feet and blinded eyes. The piece is inspired by a classical folk story in which the hero blinded by the love of the heroine is condemned to wander in the desert trying to find her just to burn in flames when they finally meet. Ataman’s work is a metaphor for the relationship of attraction and trauma created when tradition and modernity meet.
1. Abraaj Capital Art Prize 2009 pamphlet distributed at Fort Island, Madinat Jumeirah at Art Dubai 18-21 March 2009
2. Gulf News
- Art Dubai – who sold what to whom? 15 galleries talk to Art Radar – March 2009
- Turkish art another fad? The lowdown on this new market – March 2009
- Japanese Indian artist creates mobile home installation in first solo show in Europe – Feb 2009 – another artist who works with light in installations
- Kandinsky prize won by Alexey Beliayeb-Guintovt, video of menacing ceremony – Dec 2008
- Pakistani artist Huma Bhaba receives Aldrich Museum emerging artist prize 2008 – Aug 2008